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Sexual Assault

Former legislative aide alleges then-state assemblyman forcibly touched him in Albany hotel rooms

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A former staff member of Chad Lupinacci, Huntington town supervisor, has filed a lawsuit alleging the then-state assemblyman of sexual assault and harassment during his employment.

Brian Finnegan, Lupinacci’s former legislative aide and chief of staff, filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Supreme Court Dec. 4 alleging that Lupinacci forced non-consensual sexual acts and inappropriate touching on him during overnight trips to Albany in December 2017.

“I was forced to forfeit my career in public service, something in which I took much pride in making our community a better place,” Finnegan said in a statement. “At the drop of the hat, my hard work was meaningless and I was unemployed, all because I was the target of a sexual predator. My life was shattered.”

“At the drop of the hat, my hard work was meaningless and I was unemployed, all because I was the target of a sexual predator. My life was shattered.”

— Brian Finnegan

Brian Griffin, a Garden City-based attorney with Foley Griffin LLP representing Lupinacci, said Finnegan’s allegations were “unequivocally false and completely without merit,” and an attempt at “an unjust and unwarranted financial payday.” The attorney said that despite the alleged incidents having occurred approximately a year ago, no complaint was ever filed with the New York State Assembly.

Finnegan worked as legislative aide for Lupinacci for three years while he represented the 10th state Assembly District and traveled with him to Albany at least once a month for work responsibilities. During that time, Manhattan-based attorney Imran Ansari, of Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins PC, said his client, Finnegan, was subjected to “a pattern of somewhat bizarre and inappropriate behavior” culminating in an alleged sexual assault.

“Mr. Finnegan was subjected to unlawful and unwanted sexual contact by Mr. Lupinacci that amounts to nothing less than assault,” the attorney said. “He endured harassment and abuse over his time working for Mr. Lupinacci and in order to escape this hostile work environment gave up a position in public service that was personally, professionally and financially rewarding. He’s suffered economic damages and pain and suffering, but most importantly, he seeks the justice.”

The lawsuit filed this month claims that Finnegan frequently was asked inappropriate questions about his personal life, including the women he was dating, from the then-assemblyman, and found evidence his employer went into his cellphone and computer without permission.

“Supervisor Lupinacci has spent over a decade educating our students, serving on the local school board, working in the [state] Assembly and as the supervisor of the Town of Huntington,” Griffin said in a statement. “Supervisor Lupinacci denies these claims and will continue to serve the people of the Town of Huntington in the same professional and dedicated manner that he has done throughout his career in public service. He will vigorously defend himself against these false allegations.”

On Dec. 5, 2017, Finnegan said he was sharing a hotel room at Hilton Albany with Lupinacci, who allegedly insisted it was for “budgetary reasons,” when between the hours of 2 to 5 a.m. he woke to finding his employer standing over him. The former aide alleges that he felt Lupinacci touching the zipper of his suit pants and attempted to bat him away, according to the lawsuit. He claims to have confronted Huntington’s supervisor-elect asking “What are you doing?” before falling back asleep, and a second time tried to confront him but Lupinacci allegedly jumped back into bed.

Supervisor Lupinacci denies these claims and will continue to serve the people of the Town of Huntington in the same professional and dedicated manner that he has done throughout his career in public service.”

— Brian Griffin

Finnegan claims he was reluctant to make a second overnight trip to Albany Dec. 12, 2017, and share a room with the then-state assemblyman at the Renaissance Albany Hotel. The ex-staffer said he awoke around 2:30 a.m. in the morning to find Lupinacci kneeling at the side of his bed. Lupinacci allegedly replied something about “checking to see if [Finnegan wanted food] and left,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges Finnegan’s boxers had been moved and manipulated to expose his genitals, and said he believes Lupinacci had inappropriate and nonconsensual sexual contact while he was asleep amounting to sexual assault.

“You’ve been touching me in my sleep and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Finnegan said confronting Lupinacci, according to the lawsuit. “This is done, this is over, I can’t work for you anymore.”

The ex-staffer said he left Renaissance Albany in the early hours of the night, purchased an Amtrak ticket home and waited as the politician allegedly attempted to repeatedly call his cellphone before driving around the city of Albany in an effort to find him.

“I was terrified and felt hunted,” Finnegan said.

The former staffer said he gave his resignation to Lupinacci days later and declined a position already offered to him as an executive assistant and senior adviser in the incoming Huntington administration.

The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation from the Huntington town supervisor for economic damages, in addition to pain and suffering, Ansari said. While a specific dollar amount was not cited, the attorney argued his client could have been earning considerably much more working for the town with better benefits. Finnegan is now employed by Todd Shapiro Associates Public Relations in Manhattan.

Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating the sexual assault of a female teenager that occurred in Huntington earlier this week.

The 16-year-old girl was walking with a friend on Prospect Street, roughly 100 feet south of Main Street, at approximately 1:15 a.m. Nov. 11 when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a man, police said.

Police said the man was described as Hispanic, approximately 20 to 25 years old, with short hair on the sides and long hair on top. The man, who has acne and a scar on his forehead, was wearing dark-colored shorts, a light-colored hooded sweatshirt and white sneakers. He fled on foot toward Main Street.

The  teen was transported to a local hospital for treatment, according to police.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on this incident to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

have a few questions for the newly minted Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

What did you learn through this process?

You will be judging legal cases from people from all walks of life, working together with the eight other Supreme Court justices to decide on cases that will determine the law of the land for everyone.

What’s it like to be the accused? In some cases, the accused will be as angry and defensive and frustrated as you were. How will you understand the legal issues of their cases? How will you consider the legal questions and how will you consider the implications for them?

Will you understand the fury some people might feel through the legal process? Will you appreciate their position, even as you use the law to guide your decision-making process?

Maybe not because you, after all, didn’t go through a trial. Well, you certainly didn’t go through a judicial trial. You endured an ordeal, you experienced a political maelstrom and you became a divisive figure, suffering through accusations you found abhorrent.

People prejudged you because of the claims women made about your behavior from years ago.

Will you be able to appreciate the implications of your decisions on the people awaiting them?

Will a process that you found impossibly difficult make you better at your job? Will you grow from this experience, the way people who take an impossible organic chemistry class where they have to memorize and learn structures, concepts and stoichiometry become better students?

People rarely ask for the suffering and hardship that comes during any process. It’s what makes movies about road trips so compelling: People have to overcome or surmount obstacles along the way to get closer to the destination — or the truth.

Will you learn about yourself and gain a new perspective on the country and all of its citizens now that you’ve made that trip?

In many jobs, we ask people to go beyond what might be their natural responses to people or circumstances. Firefighters race toward a burning building when they may want to run toward safety. The same holds true with the police, who enter unknown and potentially dangerous circumstances.

Doctors can’t look at a wound and screech, “Yuck, that’s so disgusting, get that away from me.”

In many jobs, we need to overcome our visceral responses, doing what’s asked and ignoring other parts of our experience because that’s what’s required.

In your case, the country asks you to make the best judgment for everyone, even the Democrats or those who might accuse others of sexual assault.

Will you be able to step out of a reflexive response that’s all too human to make decisions that affect the lives of everyone?

Taking a step away from Judge Kavanaugh, what have we all learned? We know the country is divided and we know people are prepared to find evidence to support whatever conclusions they have already drawn.

Can we become more judicial instead of prejudicial? Can we act the way we all hope Judge Kavanaugh will behave?

The downside of the instantaneous world in which we live is that we expect instant results. We want food as soon as we order it and we want to speak with everyone and anyone whenever we feel the urge, even if we’re driving, standing in a line or watching a movie.

Maybe what we’ll learn is that the judicial process requires time, effort and consideration. Perhaps we can be thankful that the fact-finding, questions and appeals process that accompanies trials will bring out enough information to render a verdict consistent with the law — not a political or any other personal belief.

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We have hit the point as a society where it is near impossible to believe a definitive conclusion will be reached that will convince both sides of the political divide as to what happened between Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. This is not to say we did not find Blasey Ford’s testimony under oath credible, but we wish the conversation could go in a different, more productive direction on parallel tracks with the predictable political mudslinging. Believe it or not, we see this moment and conversation as far more important than a single seat on the Supreme Court bench, as mind blowing as that may be for some partisans.

The tenor of the national conversation following the hearing on the matter before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is a perfect representation as to why people like Blasey Ford hold accusations back, sometimes for decades. As a country we need to take a step back and figure out why the knee-jerk reaction from so many when sexual assault or misconduct accusations come up is to find a reason to invalidate them. The #MeToo, #WhyIdidntreport and #TimesUp movements have moved the discussion undoubtedly in the right direction, but this week should serve as proof we still have a long way to go.

Defining sexual assault and instilling a baseline of acceptable behavior — especially in young men, but all young adults — would be an extremely healthy first step. Legally the term is defined as any unwanted sexual contact. It seems simple when phrased that way, but because of the way rites of passage and coming of age are portrayed and depicted in our society, truly hearing and understanding a partner and being conscious of someone else’s comfort in a certain situation is likely far from the minds of young people in that situation.

This should not be read as an excuse for people who cross the line into sexual assault — which is a crime — but rather a demand to be open to communication and self-reflection as a means to avoid perpetuating this type of behavior. If we can get our kids to a place of having that reaction, to look within and take up a dedication to learning from mistakes, instead of the knee-jerk deny, deny, deny, we’ll have taken a critical, if minimal, first step toward a healthier tomorrow for everyone.

The U.S. Senate used to be a body looked to for leadership, a place where Americans use their democratic right to send our very best, and most objective, neutral arbiters. Anyone who watched the hearing would scoff at that notion in the present day. We can only hope that once the dust settles on this ugly chapter that body will resume its intended function and becomes a leader in this discussion, regardless of political persuasion.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

Like a tidal wave slamming into the shore the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, born of high-profile sexual assault and sexual harassment cases becoming public, are decimating decades-old culturally accepted standards regarding behavior in the workplace and otherwise. In an effort to keep up with rapidly shifting societal norms, lawmakers from local town governments all the way up through the federal level are examining existing laws pertaining to workplace sexual misconduct while also crafting new ones to cover potential lapses — in government and the private sector.

Laura Ahearn, an attorney and the executive director of The Crime Victims Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse and rape, as well as providing support for victims of violent crimes, said she views the #MeToo movement as a valuable opportunity.

“The #MeToo movement has created an ideal climate for us to call upon legislators to help us change a culture which has minimized sexual harassment and a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and sexual harassment,” she said, adding her organization, which runs the Parents for Megan’s Law website, has many state-level legislative priorities currently in the works.

“Women have been taught to believe that performing sexual favors for their bosses is part of the job.”

— Marjorie Mesidor

While cases of harassment, assault and general sexual misconduct involving prominent men in government and the entertainment industry are resulting in serious consequences, through loss of employment or social pariah status, low-profile offenders, especially from the private sector, are likely avoiding them. Creating concrete ways to punish offenders operating out of the public eye will be a challenge for lawmakers going forward.

According to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the county passed legislation in December mandating all elected officials and department heads be trained on sexual harassment and assault by the Office of Labor Relations.

The law mandates elected officials and department heads be trained starting 2018, and again every two years. Anker said she’s hoping to amend the law to make it mandated that every new hire be educated once taking a position.

Marjorie Mesidor, a partner at New York City’s Phillips & Associates law firm, which specializes in employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases, said she was floored to hear the law was only just put in place.

“Great progress,” she said. “I’m not mocking it, but my stomach is churning.”

Mesidor pointed at state and federal laws that require a complaint to be filed in order for businesses with management-level employees accused of harassment to be legally held liable as a deterrent in justice being achieved for victims. She said when formal complaints are made by employees, cross examination follows that takes on the tone of “slut shaming.” She said that in itself is enough to prevent many women from filing initial complaints, thus harming their harassment cases in the future.

“I’ve seen a trend of cases come into our office of women who are in forced sexual relationships with their bosses over time,” she said. “They’ve been taught to believe that performing sexual favors for their bosses is part of the job.”

“What about someone working in a deli, the restaurant waitress — their jobs, their life depend on that paycheck from the boss who might just be making them uncomfortable … It might be much worse.”

— Kara Hahn

Employees and employers in the private sector are often unaware of their rights and what constitutes harassment that would hold up in court, according to Mesidor. She said New York City Human Rights Law doesn’t require formal complaints, and should be looked to as an example for writing harassment laws.

Bills are currently in committee in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would amend the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, a law passed to require Congress to follow employment and workplace safety laws applied to the business world. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), if passed, would reform procedures for investigating harassment complaints in Congress and require public announcement of the offender and the dollar amount in the cases where settlements are reached. This week, Newsday reported more than $10 million of taxpayer money has been used to settle 88 sexual harassment, discrimination and other related cases in state government over the last nine years.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she would like to see laws put in place requiring businesses to adopt best practices when it comes to sexual harassment, rather than simply providing legal cover for the ones that do.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) agrees.

“What about someone working in a deli, the restaurant waitress — their jobs, their life depend on that paycheck from the boss who might just be making them uncomfortable,” she said. “It might be much worse.”

In October 2015, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation to prevent harassment in the workplace. The legislation directed the state Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights to make training available to employers to help them develop policies, procedures and their own training to address and eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Cuomo signed legislation “Enough is Enough” that year, which requires all colleges to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines, including a uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy and expanded access to law enforcement.

Aimee Otero. Photo from SCPD

Rocky Point subsitute teach Aimee Otero has ben arrested for inappropriately touching a student at Rocky Point High School, according to Suffolk County Police.

Last month, Special Victims Section detectives began an investigation into the conduct of Otero after being contacted by administrators at Rocky Point Union Free School District. Detectives determined Otero, 25, inappropriately touched a 16-year-old male student in a Rocky Point classroom April 7.

Special Victims Section detectives arrested and charged Otero, of Coram, with third-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. Otero was issued a desk appearance ticket and will be arraigned on a later date.

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring addressed the incident in an emailed statement through a district spokeswoman.

“The district has been notified by Suffolk County Police that a substitute teacher, who has worked for the district at the secondary level, has been arrested for inappropriate conduct with a Rocky Point High School student,” he said. “The arrest comes after the district was made aware of allegations brought forth by the student, and after the district conducted our own internal investigation during which we brought the matter to the attention of law enforcement.

“The district is always committed to the safety and well–being of our students and we take matters such as this very seriously. The individual responsible for these allegations, who passed all mandatory New York State background checks prior to employment, has worked as a substitute teacher in the district for varying lengths of time since November 2015. Based on these allegations and subsequent arrest, this person will no longer work for the district.

“I thank you for understanding that the district is not at liberty to share any further details as this is a criminal matter and the parties involved are entitled to privacy.”

Attorney information for Otero was not immediately available.

This story was updated May 5 at 1:50 p.m. to include Ring’s statement.

Nikki Yovino, above, accused two men of sexually assaulting her at an off-campus party outside Sacred Heart University, below. Photo from Bridgeport Police Department

By Rita Egan

South Setauket native Nikki Yovino turned herself into the Bridgeport Police Department last week after a warrant for her arrest was issued. The 2016 Ward Melville graduate is accused of filing a false police report and tampering with evidence involving a case where she reported two men for sexual assault, according to the Bridgeport Police Department website.

“As the investigation continued, the case detective received more information that contradicted Yovino’s statements to police.”

— Bridgeport Police Department

After attending a party Oct. 15, Yovino reported that two black males sexually assaulted her. The Sacred Heart University student said she was at an off-campus house party in Bridgeport when the assault occurred in a bathroom of the home. One of the alleged assailants was also a student at the university, and a football player, and the second was a former student. According to the police department’s website, “BPD detectives conducted a thorough investigation and met several times with SHU administrators. Initial statements from witnesses and evidence recovered from the scene suggested that a sexual assault had occurred. As the investigation continued, the case detective received more information that contradicted Yovino’s statements to police. This new information included new witness accounts, text messages and cell phone video. Yovino was confronted with this evidence, and admitted that she, in fact, did have consensual sex with both males.”

The police department’s website also states that with this admission, probable cause existed to charge the woman with a false report and tampering with evidence. A warrant was issued, and after being informed of the warrant, Yovino turned herself into the police Feb. 21.

Sacred Heart University. Photo from Facebook,

Yovino’s attorney, Mark Sherman, expects his client to plead not guilty at a March 3 arraignment. According to the Stamford-based criminal lawyer, he would not be able to comment further about the case until he was provided with police reports and video footage.

“The details of what happened here will come out at the appropriate time during the court process,” the lawyer wrote in an email.

Kimberly A. Primicerio, assistant director of media relations for Sacred Heart University couldn’t confirm whether or not Yovino is still enrolled at the school, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and  Privacy Act that prevents providing information about specific students.

“I can say that some of the early information that was released is inaccurate,” she wrote in an email. “Sacred Heart never expelled the two students nor was any student stripped of scholarships because of any allegations. Whenever there is any kind of incident at Sacred Heart University, we go to great lengths to ensure due process for all parties involved. The way that this particular case is playing out certainly demonstrates the validity of our procedures.”

President Donald Trump suspended entry from seven countries last week. File photo

As an editorial staff, we have an opinion. …

The first half of that sentence isn’t necessary in order to reveal what we think. And that is the exact problem we have had with this past weekend’s news cycle.

Political leader after political leader came out this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday to condemn Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s leaked comments, bragging about being able to commit sexual assault against women.

One of the common themes from legislators who pulled their endorsements was “As a father of daughters” or “As a brother with sisters — or a mother,” they were offended.

Two problems here: You don’t need to be a “someone” in order to be offended, you can simply be offended. And why is it that women are repeatedly being referred to as a sister, a daughter or a mother?

A presidential candidate talked about how he can sexually assault women because he is a star. A woman doesn’t need to be anything to be offended, threatened or violated by that sentiment. A man is also not disqualified from finding Trump’s comments reprehensible simply because he is a man.

Women don’t need to give birth or have a brother before they can be victimized by Trump’s words. Men don’t need to be married to condemn sexual assault. It should not matter your role, your background or your stature — no one should need to back up or justify why they are against sexual assault. They just should be.

Francis Barrios mugshot from SCPD

A rapist was recently sentenced to 24 years in prison for an assault on a taxi driver this past winter.

Francis Barrios, 34, already a registered sex offender, pleaded guilty in March to raping the female driver after she picked him up one evening at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.

During the Dec. 1 ride, authorities said, he beat and strangled her, causing the cab to crash into a fence on Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Then he sexually assaulted her, pulling her into the back seat and raping her.

Officers responded to the scene after a passing motorist called 911.

The Suffolk County Police Department has not identified the taxi company that the victim worked for, to protect her identity.

Police first identified Barrios as homeless, but the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office has since said he is from Middle Island. He has also been identified by the names Francis Berrios and Francisco Barrios.

The offender pleaded guilty to first-degree rape in late March, and was then sentenced in late April to 24 years incarceration, as well as 20 years of post-release supervision.

Barrios was previously convicted as a violent offender in Suffolk County, for first-degree attempted rape. According to the New York State sex offender registry, where he is listed as a Level 3 sexually violent offender, Barrios was convicted in November 2004 for sexual contact with a 12-year-old girl, who was described as a “non-stranger” to him. He was sentenced to 42 months in state prison for that crime.

Francis Barrios mugshot from SCPD

A registered sex offender pleaded guilty on Monday to raping a female taxi driver in December during a trip that started in Port Jefferson.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday that 34-year-old Francis Barrios, of Middle Island, pleaded guilty to first-degree rape.

When the incident first occurred, on Dec. 1, authorities said the driver had picked up Barrios at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital that evening. During the trip he beat and strangled her, causing the taxi to crash into a fence on Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Barrios, who police said was homeless, then sexually assaulted the victim.

According to the DA’s office, he pulled her into the back seat and raped her.

Officers responded to the crash scene after a passing motorist called 911, police said at the time.

Police did not release the name of the taxi company, to protect the identity of the victim.

The DA’s office said Barrios was previously convicted as a violent offender in Suffolk County for first-degree attempted rape, and violated his parole. He was expected to be sentenced to 24 years in prison and 20 years of post-release supervision on April 20.

On the New York State sex offender registry, Barrios is listed as a Level 3 sexually violent offender who has also gone by the last name Berrios. He was convicted in November 2004 in relation to an incident of sexual contact earlier that year involving a 12-year-old girl, who was described as a “non-stranger” to Barrios. He was sentenced to 42 months in state prison.